The Klondike of the Atlantic
Siglufjörður remembers its Golden Age
Siglufjörður is a small fishing town on the north coast of Iceland, about one hour drive from Akureyri (sometimes referred to as the Capital of North Iceland). The town, which is a part of the Fjallabyggð municipality, is flanked by rugged mountains and blessed with a history that is quite literally rich. The town was once nicknamed the Klondike of the Atlantic – a reference to the famous gold producing region in Alaska. The gold in this case was an abundance of ‘the silver of the sea’, the herring, which gave the town its second nickname: The Herring Town. Today Siglufjörður is a haven for hiking, sailing, fishing, skiing and other activities. You will also find a nice swimming pool there and a 9 hole golf course.
Golden Age of Herring
The golden age of herring lasted just over 100 years, from 1867 to 1968. Icelanders generally refer to this era as the ‘herring fairy tale’. The country was still impoverished and essentially an undeveloped Danish colony at the time, but the resulting economic boom helped to turn Iceland into a developed country – that ultimately led to its independence.
Initially, the boom was mostly confined to several towns in the north of the country, but later it also moved to towns in the eastern fjords. At times, the export of herring accounted for up to half of the country’s total export income.
Siglufjörður was at the forefront of this economic boom, and often the herring exports from this one town alone provided more than 20% of the country’s total export income.
As one would expect, given any kind of gold rush, the town blossomed and grew rapidly, fostering a colourful culture that is still remembered and honoured today.
The Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s ambitious Herring Era Museum is the largest industrial and marine museum in Iceland. It has five exhibition buildings, totalling 2,500 square metres, and it is most likely the only one of its kind in the world.
The town itself is a piece of history and the museum has essentially endeavoured to rebuild a part of the old town as it was during its heyday, complete with herring boats, a herring port, boatyard, and a herring factory. In addition, it puts on live re-enactments. It won Iceland’s Museum Award in 2000, and the Micheletti Award in 2004 as the best new industrial museum in Europe.
The museum is open daily from June to September. This summer the museum broke its attendance record in June, with 4,000 visitors – thanks, in part, to big cruise ships that visited the fjord.
Saturday admissions in July include a ‘Salting Show’ at 3pm, where ‘Herring girls’ re-enact the gutting and packing of herring into barrels, in the way it was done in the old days. Traditional songs and dances are also performed and guests are invited to join in.
A Modern Fairy Tale
There are several festivals in the Fjallabyggð municipality in the summers, where camping is often combined with organized singing and dancing. To name just few, there is the Folk Music Festival in Siglufjörður in July, two festivals dedicated to music in Ólafsfjörður town, a blues festival called the Blue North Music Festival in June, and a music feast touting classical music, called the Berry Harvest Days, in August.
Siglufjörður is one of the hot-spots and the proud host to many well-known annual events. The flagship, without a doubt, is the herring festival, with a full week of herring related – and none herring related – events and entertainment, with renowned musicians and artists performing throughout the week. The festival is family friendly and suits everyone from young age to the more mature.
The festival starts on July 23 with the launch of the Herring Fairy Tale Festival, and peaks during the holiday weekend on July 31 – August 3, with the Great Herring Adventure Festival. There are, of course, hotels and guesthouses available for those that love the idea of joining the festival but do not like the idea of camping. -SF
For more details visit www.fjallabyggd.is and www.visitrollaskagi.is
Snorragata 10 • 580 Siglufjörður
+354 467 1604